new zealand electronic poetry centre




Big Smoke: New Zealand Poems 1960-1975 Comment and Context

Ed. Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond, Michele Leggott.
Auckland UP, 2000



Christine O’Brien, AUP

Publicity for National Poetry Day 2000:

AUP will celebrate Montana New Zealand Poetry Day by supporting a full programme of events in Auckland City including:

** Campus Readings

Students from the Creative Writing Class at the University of Auckland will read together with established poets including Albert Wendt, Martyn Sanderson, Vanya Lowry, Rore Hapipi, Riemke Ensing & Nigel Roberts.
21 July, 1pm, Wharekai, Waipapa Marae, University of Auckland, Cnr Wynyard St & Alten Rd, City. Free event.

** Launch Party

Launch of Big Smoke: New Zealand Poems 1960-1975 with poetry and music. Readings from poets including Alan Brunton, Murray Edmond, Rore Hapipi, Russell Haley, Heather McPherson, John Macnamara, Vanya Lowry, Nigel Roberts & Riemke Ensing. Comperes Michele Leggott, Alan Brunton & Murray Edmond.
21 July, 7.30pm, Ellen Melville Hall, Cnr High and Freyburg Sts, City. $8 waged; $5 unwaged.


Eleanor Rimoldi
, Auckland

Letter to ML, 19 May 2000:

As I am on Buka Island in Bougainville it took a while for my email to reach me. At the moment I rely on someone else's computer in town to download my mail, print it out and bring it back to me further down the road. So I know you wanted a bio-note by 14 or 15 May but will try to get this to you now anyhow.

Glad to know the publication is on track. I would like the bionote to be under my now married name of Rimoldi – you can work that one out, as the poems were published under my earlier married name.


‘Eleanor Rimoldi is a senior lecturer in social anthropology at Massey University, Albany Campus in Auckland. Born in Buffalo, New York, she came to New Zealand in the early 1960's and is now a New Zealand citizen. She is the mother of three children, and is married to Max Rimoldi with whom she shares a long-time research commitment to Bougainville.’


Nigel Roberts
, Sydney

Letter to ML, November 1997:

Mark Young is alive and well – well at least he was five minutes ago – when I rang him. Address and phone number as follows . . . .  

Letter to ML, 10 February 1999:

[free poetry.] Yes I have copies of mine and others’ youthful & revolutionary efforts. What’s the project – to trace the one-way traffic of NZ’s finest to these shores?

From memory we published Martyn Sanderson, Richard Packer, Derek Melser, John Goodall, Su Morrissey, David Mitchell, Randy Candy – perhaps Alan Brunton, and myself of course.

I am particularly keen to recommend to you the visceral cut-ups of John Goodall, the lyrics of David Mitchell, and the performance works of Martyn Sanderson.

So imagining a worthy project I have been in contact with the Librarian at the Australian Defence Force Academy, who should email you re. an Inter Library loan – though I’m not sure whether they have the complete set of eight issues.

Letter to ML, 21 April 1999:

Here is free poetry. Look after them, and in your own time return them please. I’ve marked all Kiwis with a blue dot/asterisk.

Brent Southgate, Wellington

Letter to AB, 19 February 1999:

I’m enclosing my permission agreement for ‘New Jerusalem Sonnets,’ but this letter is to alert you to the fact that this was actually a collaborative effort between me and Bill Manhire, so it needs to be acknowledged as such. I’ve just been in touch with Bill by e-mail, and he tells me he’d be ‘delighted to be recorded as joint author’ and is perfectly willing to have it reprinted, so you can take this as confirmation of his agreement as well.

As a matter of fact I’d almost forgotten about those sonnets, and was amazed to find that they still seemed reasonably funny. Bill and I sat down with a few beers and a typewriter one night and that was the result. If they seem mildly incoherent at times, it’s because when one of us ran out of juice the other would take over. One incident has stuck in my mind: I’d come up with the bit about JKB’s poems speaking from the ‘bronze arse-pipe’ of the Roman torture machine, and so on – felt things were going well – and Bill suddenly topped it with the lines, ‘Man, how can you take the via crucis / And still be humble?’ After twenty-odd years that still cracks me up.


Kathinka Nordal Stene, Dunedin

Letter to AB,’ 22 March 1999:

My friend Bob [RJ Cachemaille] named it [’Kennedy’s Finger’]. This was the new sort of poem, the exciting sort of thing I'd just found where the lines and shapes were custom-built and the rhythms had the apparent casualness that I later loved in Fred Astaire's hoofing. One day I was walking back from Wardells, the shop with the real deli section, and the words began to shuffle and arrange. In MY head! I wrote it and took it over to Bob Cachemaille who had introduced me to the beat poets and jazz and was a wonderful friend to me. I didn't have a name for it. He suggested ‘Kennedy's Finger’ which was okay and besides it was nice to have Bob name it for me.

That's how, that's why.

I'm rather glad you wrote. I couldn't remember the other poems and I've just been and fetched out the old Landfall and read them. And thought they were okay – but then I always did, in between the other times when I was sure everything I ever wrote was total shite. Anyway it's been lovely thinking about Bob again, and the wonderful exciting feeling of having a freshly made poem.

Letter to ML, 7 July 2000:

A free copy and a cheque, nice!

You and all involved have made a great job of Big Smoke and I hope you're feeling proud of yourselves, you should be. It must have been a huge job.

The book looks and feels good, and such an amazing range of writers!


John Tranter
, Sydney

Letter supporting Creative NZ application, 25 April 1999:

To Michele Leggott,

I’m delighted to hear that you are involved in a project to publish a major anthology of New Zealand poetry from 1960 to 1975. It seems unbelievable that such a book doesn’t already exist; the sooner it happens the better. That historical period still resonates in Australian poetry as a time of conflict and creative ferment that has not been equalled since; I’m sure it was even more so across the Tasman.

If there’s anything I can do to help, please ask.

One thing I’d like to do is feature the anthology, around the time of its publication, in Jacket, a quarterly magazine of new writing which I edit, and which is distributed freely around the world on the Internet. I started Jacket in 1997; so far its home page has had forty thousand separate visits. Its international reach is particularly gratifying.

Perhaps I could reprint the anthology’s Introduction, and a selection of say twenty poems from the book. I could provide live Internet links to bookstores that stock the book around the world, so readers who like what they see of it in Jacket can whip out their credit cards and have the book in their hands within a week. I like using photos, too, so anything you have from that distant age of flared trousers and beads would be welcome. I can scan and return photos safely and promptly.

Anzac Day seems a particularly apt date to be writing this letter.

  Letter to ML, 2 July 2000:

Looks good. I've sent it to Philip Mead to review for Jacket. That may take a while.

Tom Shapcott said (when I told him in 1978 that I was going to do an anthology – he had done two, by then, I think) ‘Oh, well, you'll lose all your friends.’

All my friends?

Yes. Those you don't put in will hate you for the obvious reasons.

Those you DO put in will hate you because:

a) you didn't include enough of their poems,
b) you deliberately chose their weakest poems, which they now hate,
c) you didn't include any poems by their friends,
d) you included lots of poems by those horrible people (list of enemies),
e) you put their poems right beside those of (horrible shit x, y or z),
f) you've done them a favour, and people hate that,
g) etc, etc, etc . . .

I checked out the sites on the Internet that have live links to Jacket – it came to around four hundred. I guess I must be doing something right.

Richard Turner, Sydney

Letter to ML, 4 November 2003:

The 3 NZ poets film [Haley, Wedde, Brunton] was my first professional effort (as opposed to student effort) albeit on a shoestring budget and is still one of my favourites. It is variously known as The Three Poets Film, Souvenirs of Egypt 1944 or as a collection of three individually titled shorts. Confusing!

I cannot remember the exact chronology around the genesis of the film(s). We started work shooting in late 1975. I was then working for the National Film Unit and had access (illegally on weekends) to equipment. I was also living on Oriental Terrace in an apartment where various scenes were shot. The initial concept was mine. I was enamoured of poetry and various poets of the generation. While it was long before the video clip, I had some film-making experience in London with the rock band Genesis in preparation of background visuals to their concerts and was aware of how they combined visual story telling with their lyrics.

I proposed to Ian and Alan the idea of shooting a poem or group of poems of theirs which they wrote scripts for and which we co-directed. They were enthusiastic. As always in those days the proposals quickly ran ahead of the resources. It was Alan who brought the title Souvenir(s) of Egypt, 1944 to the project. He had this black cushion cover with a camel, palm and pyramid and the legend above embroidered into it. His father or uncle had brought it back from WWII.

The concept was that we were all in one way or another souvenirs of the war and that this would thematically tie the individual poets’ work together in one film. I believe we had some vague idea of looping the works together with a narration or similar device but that was never formulated. We quickly agreed on Russell being part of the film. Alan, Ian and Russell were extremely close in that period. Filming the works of those three poets felt absolutely right to me.

Their different styles came out in the scripting and shooting. Russell for instance turned up in Wellington with a lot of scribbled notes across his manuscript, we discussed it, I took him to appropriate locations and he would act out what he wanted to do and I would then set up the shots. Ian had done his research and had a typewritten script set out in classic two-column format. Despite that he largely contented himself with letting me direct the shooting including framing of shots.

Alan's was the most visually ambitious, and the largest shoot. He did not have a written script as far as I remember, but had very clearly thought out concepts and these were most intensely discussed between poet and director. Certainly I had a lot of input into the visual style including suggestions of locations and attempting to push lighting styles and film colour in ways that were difficult at that time. He trusted me throughout to frame the shots and was very happy with the results except for the one shot under the bridge in which his character does the sacrifice. We stayed static and he would have liked us to zoom in on the fire. We tried to correct it optically – thus the rather grainy quality of the shot.

The titles of each piece are: ‘Weekend’ by Russell Haley, ‘Angel’ by Ian Wedde, ‘Garlic Seeds’ by Alan Brunton.

We never finished it as a combined piece under one title due to lack of money. I had a lot of difficulty raising funds to finish it after I had completed the edit of each of the three pieces. Lab costs (the National Film Unit) were very expensive. I tried to persuade them to help me as I was expected to do some shorts as a trainee director but they refused – freaked is more the word. Eventually the Education Department came to the rescue.

At that time there was a man in charge of a development unit who did some very farsighted funding as far as film was concerned. A lot of emerging NZ film-makers received funding to dramatise NZ short stories in that period. He financed my next film Two Rivers Meet in which I gathered a dozen or so Maori poets together in one coherent story telling piece as originally proposed for the three poets.

I believe the reason this did not happen for the three poets is because the development unit envisaged the pieces standing individually for school educational purposes. The money to finish was advanced as a purchase of 2-3 copies of each film by the National Film Library which was then part of the Education Department. I believe it has been incorporated into the National Library. I do not know if any of those copies are still extant.

The three films also screened as separate individual pieces in both the Auckland and Wellington Film Festivals (1976 or 1977?) as part of three different programmes. I suspect therefore that in any catalogues they would appear under their individual titles, credited to me as director rather than the poets as writers. They may also be simply credited to Trilogic Films.

I have just checked the New Zealand Film Archives. They have all three titles catalogued as part of their collection. Interestingly enough, both ‘Weekend’ and 'Angel' are catalogued whilst 'Garlic Seeds' is listed as awaiting cataloguing. 'Weekend' is listed as being produced in 197? and 'Angel' as 1983? 

I must find out if they have the negatives as the negatives were being held in the vaults of either the National Film Unit Lab or Cinelab, an Auckland firm that went bust in the 80's. Having gone into exile after the terrible experience of my first feature Squeeze – it is not often parliament passes legislation to deny a specific film funding – I rather lost control of my various works back in NZ. However the NFU has seemed to be relatively diligent in ensuring most people's negs ended up at the Archives and I have been told the contents of the CineLab vault also eventually went to the Archives.


Mark Young, Sydney

Letter to ML, 2 March 1998:

[The Poets’ Co-operative.] probably could be described as an ephemeral entity. Existed for around a year; not a co-operative, but something to hang a series of things on. Genesis lay in my supporting myself for a couple of years through a variety of activities – art critic, book on NZ art, poetry prize, working with a rock/jazz group – Claude Papesch, Bruno Lawrence and others – in a nightclub, poetry readings – often Dave Mitchell and myself, usually with music – arranging poetry readings for others, usually without music, small books of poetry.

The books got as far as #3, Jim Baxter's Ballad of the Stonegut Sugar Factory, which the printer referred to his lawyer who rang up CSR [Colonial Sugar Refinery] who threatened to sue and so the book was pulped and my relationship with the printer went with it. One copy existed, and might still exist. It certainly didn't make it to the Turnbull Library.

The readings didn't get much further as my personal life got in the way. They were popular, usually a couple of hundred people, and an audience that was a joy to work with.

Love/Juice I can't remember much about apart from the fact that there was only one issue, with a genuine silkscreen – linocut? – cover. Marie [Duckett] might be able to tell you more; but it was part of the Co-op package.

The readings were an ongoing but irregular part of the 60s, usually centred in one or other incarnations of the Barry Lett Galleries.

There is some poetry of mine in Australian magazines from the early 70s – New Poetry, Patterns, and a double-page spread in Living Daylights – I think that was the name; Nigel Roberts could possibly tell you more. There was also a poem of mine in The Bulletin in the early 60s, something I couldn't bring myself to submit to a NZ publication.

However, Nigel's letting me know of your letter to him prompted me to get out a box of poetry that I have borne with me for 25 years; and looking through it has prompted me to do something about what's there. If you are interested, I will send you copies.

I'd be happy and pleased to see some of my work republished or even published; so if some sort of compilation comes about, I'd be honoured to be part of it.


Letter to ML, 25 March 1998:

I never felt any sense of home-grown inheritance. I started writing without any antecedents; & only after becoming a ‘published poet’ with the first three poems I wrote did I think about it seriously. Those that I first felt a sense of kindred spirit with were French – Apollinaire, the surrealists & the 19th century French trinity who preceded them – & the Americans – Whitman, cummings, W.C. Williams, plus many of those included in Donald Allen's anthology. There were no New Zealanders then, nor have there ever been.



Letter to ML, 27 March 1998:

The Love|Juice cover at Turnbull could quite easily be its original colour. I remember that we deliberately let the quantity of ink vary from cover to cover, so that everyone could have an original print that was different. The couple I've got left are at both extremes of the colour – one is pink, the other almost a ruby red.


Letter to ML, 5 April 1998

I read his [Allen Curnow’s] introduction to the Penguin book & can remember nothing of it except that I thought it was a bunch of crap. I also remember that it was the Auckland University line. In Wellington, the English Department hadn't read a book written since 1900 so they certainly weren't in a position to rebuff Curnow.

Our isolation made us cry out for a sense of importance, and creating a ‘tradition,’ even it was created out of false assumptions & tenuous associations, was perceived as some sort of step towards that sense. Maybe there is sufficient history now to identify some kind of progression, but how do you include Ray Charles in a book of NZ poetry. I made my tradition out of what I called my ‘jukebox of the soul’ – there are poems from all over, but more importantly songs, imbued with the emotion of some particular time & place. Three minute masterpieces. Nothing compares to Aretha Franklin singing ‘You make me feel like a natural woman.’


Letter to ML, 27 April 2000:

I had forgotten about some of it; remembered some but hadn't seen it for years – especially the pieces on Hotere & McCahon; don't remember doing a reading with Jim Baxter in the late 60s – though looking at those hooded eyes, why am I not surprised; have rediscovered two of my favourite lines – one by Eluard ‘on the demented mountain / I write your name,’ one by me in response to Ian Wedde's questionnaire – ‘I am an anarchist when it comes to the dried goose turd of politics in art – I would throw shit at everybody.’



Ah, it's funny to look back. At pretention/naivety/promise/arrogance/crap/creative genius. At things that happened – I remember being an hour late for the Rothmans thing; or that when the reporter interviewed me a few days afterwards, there were three elderly Chinese in the next room desperately waiting for him to go so they could get the opium pipe out. At the continuity & reappearance of certain images – when typing out the poems, I was surprised at how often mirrors appeared; & then seeing ‘Through the Looking Glass’ which I had forgotten all about.


Letter to ML, 16 July 2000:

Attached are a couple of poems for the Big Smoke launch.


It is the rain, initially, that acts as
catalyst to combine the static
elements. A thin patina of it on the
road; & the slope of the hill behind
provides the perspective that forces
the shadows of the park sign, the gum trees
& the low log fence around the park
into the core of an image, an ideogram
drawn upon the road. To concentrate
the brightness, add low cloud with the
city lights reflecting off it, & sodium lights
above the intersection hidden by the
houses at the top of the hill. Arrange
the ingredients thus: cloud cover,
sodium lights, gum trees, park sign,
fence, rain on the road. I do not know
what the ideogram means, but I archive
it anyway, store it as a zipfile in my mind.
The ideogram is augmented later. A
story on the 10.30 news has as back-
drop to the newsreader a stylised image
of a Japanese gate. Now I know what I am
reminded of, & reach beyond it, through
a simple gate of similar shape. To Akira
Kurosawa’s Rashomon, & that image of
Mifune in the rain, bound with ropes but
still defiant, the mud-smeared murderer
in a story that has four tellings. Foretelling.  

In the morning, without backlighting, the
road is nothing more than wet asphalt.
I bring in the newspaper. The death of
Kurosawa is reported on an inside page.


The invitation from you was prefaced by a
poem, which, as usual, was witty & urbane,
full of oblique & erudite references to subjects
as disparate as Hollywood & the black African poets.
Which, I guess, are not so disparate anyway.  

It came with its own travelling case. It was almost
a book. On the front a drawing of you by
Larry Rivers, imposed upon slabs of Mayakovsky
in the original Cyrillic. The back was a collage
of newspaper clippings - Billie Holiday’s
death, the visit of Kruschev to the
United Nations, that famous photograph
doctored to show him beating his shoe upon
poems by Yevtushenko & Vosnesensky.  

The pages inside were devoted mainly to
painting, were joined together in the concertinaed
way of those strange sepia postcards of Egypt &
the Holy Land that dated from the 1920s & which
you found so amusing. There was a monograph
on Jackson Pollock, a couple of poems about
painters, & a de Kooning nude put there to either
occupy what might otherwise have been an
empty page, or else to indicate what might have been.
Oh yes, & another drawing by Larry, of you in
cowboy gear, with the caption ‘Pistol Packing MoMA’.  

The invitation itself was somewhat prosaic.  

Let's do lunch.  I'm on Fire Island,
but I'll be back in New York at the
beginning of August.  Ring me here,
or drop me a line at home.

I thought about it for quite some time
then decided what the hell & rang. To be told
that you weren’t in, were down on the beach
& weren’t expected back until after sunset. I
didn’t leave my name, said I’d ring back, never did.
One is only brave once. Instead I wrote a note
in copperplate, expressing my regret that I would
be unavailable at the time you suggested, would be
in Paris, at a meteorological conference
to be held in the iron surrounds of the Eiffel Tower
& down to be chaired by Jean Dubuffet.

[read at Big Smoke launch 21 July 2000]


Letter to ML, 8 October 2000:

Though it wasn't published till 68, Lorca dates from 64. The Chilean training barque Esmeralda, one of those marvellous sailing ships, was in port, & a girl who couldn't resist anything in a foreign naval uniform brought a group of sailors along to a party. I talked to one of them during the course of the party, & Lorca somehow came up, I think probably along the lines of: me poet, you spanish-speaking, a+b = lorca (I don't know if I'd heard of Pablo Neruda at that point) lorca lorca. Whether he understood what I was talking about I don't know.

Why Lorca? Somewhere in my youth I had two ambitions relating to the past that could never be fulfilled. One was to have seen the Diaghilev Ballet with Nijinsky, the other was to have fought in the Spanish Civil War. The latter ambition went sailing out the window once I had read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, but my sympathy for the cause was still intact. Lorca for me was a romantic character because of the mystery surrounding his death, at the hands of a Falangist firing squad. His 'poet in new york' had surrealist influences, which is part of how I came to him, but I had also heard a marvellous reading of ‘Lanto por Ignatio Sanchez Meijas’ – at five in the afternoon – by Peter Varley some years earlier. My social vices hadn't really coalesced at the time I wrote the poem, so the identification with Lorca wasn't consciously due to them. As for the poem – & it is accentuated precisely in Right Foot but left as it originally was in Big Smoke – there is/was a Penguin anthology that came out in the around 1960, & it is in that.

Two other things: I would describe the poem as sensual rather than sexual, & by 1968, Lorca isn't amongst those listed in ‘Me – if you were not you’ which is when that poem was written.


Letter to ML, 22 October 2000

One of my seminal moments was seeing John Esam for the first time. This was in the mid-fifties, & I was sitting on the bus on my way home from school. Then John appears, escorting a lady friend to this same bus, dressed totally in black, plus shades, black hair, not sure if he had a beard. I had no idea who he was, but what an impression he made on me.

& serendipity came into play in those years as well. There was a little English guy – Billy Brown? – who played drums & who I sometimes practised with. Was with him one day, probably in 1957, in a bookshop in Courtenay Place & he picked up this book & in his thick Yorkshire accent said ‘You should read this. It's bloody brilliant.’ The book was the first English printing of On the Road, unknown & totally invisible on the shelf. & here's me thinking that Billy had never read a book in his life.

Billy worked for the Forestries Dept & moved to Rotorua later that year. I went to visit him during the school holidays, & I was reminded of one of the highlights by Warren Dibble's comments in the intro to Big Smoke. There was a blind alto sax player called Tai Paul who had a band that played at one of the two major dancehalls there, the Tama. ‘Going down the Tama, eh?’ & that band played r & b that I'd never heard any where else in N.Z.

The reference to the Universities Arts Festival triggered the memory that ‘Lizard’ is pre-dated by an earlier piece – non-poem – called ‘The Pied Bopper of Harlem’ that I performed with a jazz group lead by Geoff Murphy at a concert in the Kelburn Teachers' Training College, a pastiche of Browning about a Charlie Parker-like sax player who blew everyone away with his be-bop. I reprised this at the first U.A.F. that year in Dunedin, remember it because it was the only number performed that I didn't play bass on that night. I was the only bass player there, & no matter what uni a group came from, I was on bass.

& I threw Bruno out of the first group I lead because he played too loudly for me.


Letter to ML, 26 November 2000.

A couple of things for the archives. I'm attaching two photos that may be of interest. One's of the CND march across the Rimutakas [1961], with Wystan Curnow & I in the vanguard. The second's from 1958, of a very young Bruno & I playing, I think, at the Karori Youth club in 1958. A bit more detail is included in his biography.

I've also come across a newspaper clipping of one of Hamish Keith's columns from the Auckland Star in 1969. Since the attachment's so large already, I'll include the relevant bit here. The exhibition referred to was held at Kees Hos' New Vision Gallery.

          As an added incentive, five ‘Environmental Evening Sit-ins’ will be held during the exhibition.

On Tuesday June 3 and Sunday June 8 at 8 p.m., Jack Body will stage two evenings of happenings. On Tuesday June 10 an evening of jazz and poetry will be held, and on Thursday June 5 and Thursday June 12 Mark Young, David Mitchell and Bodley Head will read poetry.

Ah, that Bodley Head was a very musical poet.



Merlene Young, Auckland

Letter from Lucille Cash to ML, 7 June 2001:

My sister was a talented painter at the time, successfully exhibiting at Elva Bett Gallery in Cuba St, Wellington. Merlene and Mark's flat in Roxborough St, Mt Victoria, was a meeting place for Wellington artists of the time and I have memories of Brent Wong, Harry Wong and many other contemporaries visiting.

Merlene travelled with BLERTA at a later stage reading her poetry etc and Geoff Murphy, Bruno, Beaver all knew Merlene or Robert. Our brother lives in San Francisco but is closer in age to Merlene and would have many personal memories himself as he worked at PACIFIC films with John O'Shea and was in the scene. I was much younger and only an observer.

Merlene trained at Wellington Teacher's College where she also had her first poem published; it is in their library. I remember it well, it was called, MY PAINTING. She also exhibited at Barry Lett Galleries in Auckland when she moved there. They will have records of her work.



Last updated 01 April, 2004